Thursday 13 December 2018

By circling their wagon train, Sinn Fein aren't going anywhere

Paudie McGaho. Picture: Frank McGrath
Paudie McGaho. Picture: Frank McGrath
Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Francie Molloy is the kind of Sinn Fein politician that all Sinn Fein politicians claim to be. Straight-talking. Outspoken. Sharp-tongued. Inclined to make sensitive public pronouncements without clearance from the party's press office. "Another load of rubbish on spotlight tonight," Molloy raged via Twitter at 11.54pm on Tuesday. "Joint Indo bluesh... production."

The source of Molloy's viewing displeasure was the BBC Spotlight programme in which Paudie McGahon bravely and painstakingly recounted his story, a compellingly detailed narrative which was simultaneously published by the Irish Independent.

McGahon was 17 when, he says, he was raped by an IRA man from a prominent republican family. After the attack, the alleged rapist threatened McGahon, warning that he would be "found on the border roads" if he told anybody what had happened.

McGahon's misery was compounded by his treatment at the hands of the senior republicans, who claimed to be investigating his case. He says he was questioned at what he describes as an IRA "kangaroo court" in 2002, four years after the Good Friday Agreement.

Now aged 40, McGahon was inspired to break his silence by Mairia Cahill, the Belfast woman who went public about her experience of republican 'justice' last October.

For most of us, the most striking features of McGahon's account were the uncanny similarities to Cahill's story. For Molloy, however, the only discernible pattern in what he heard was the warp and weft of an anti-Sinn-Fein media conspiracy.

Molloy is MP for mid-Ulster. At 64, he has been around long enough to qualify as one of Sinn Fein's wise old heads. Yet, rather than pause to reflect on the grave questions raised by McGahon's allegations, the would-be greybeard's instinctive reaction was to shoot the messenger. Here was another disturbing tale from the recent past which contradicts Sinn Fein's presentation of itself as the unrivalled defender of equality, human rights and social justice. It must, therefore, be dismissed as rubbish.

Sinn Fein's handling of Cahill's emergence into the public sphere was spectacularly cack-handed. The party clearly wanted its response to McGahon to sound more empathetic. Molloy's die-hard public stance was short-lived. His tweet was deleted overnight. The following morning, he issued a statement acknowledging the insensitivity of his remark. "I apologise for any offence my post caused to Paudie McGahon or any victim of abuse," Molloy declared, before extolling the depth of Sinn Fein's commitment to supporting the abused.

While Molloy apologised for causing offence, he did not withdraw the sentiments expressed in his tweet. How could he? His gut response to McGahon's testimony was his gut response. As the days passed, however, it became increasingly clear that Molloy's initial assessment was not a unique perspective within the party.

Despite repeated avowals of concern for abuse victims, the Sinn Fein leadership has displayed no real willingness to confront this issue once and for all. Gerry Adams' interviews on the subject have been as clear as mud, and just as unpleasant to wade through. Within seconds of replying to a question, he has lapsed into his wearyingly familiar ritual incantations of platitude and self-exoneration. Uncomfortable queries - about the mistreatment of victims or the exiling of abusers - are sidestepped. With so little clarity emanating from the party's top brass, the credulity of the foot-soldiers seems more conspicuous than ever. In fact, the denial in which much of Sinn Fein seems mired right now is almost identical to the quagmire of self-delusion into which the Catholic hierarchy sank for years after the scale of the clerical sexual abuse scandal became apparent.

The political fallout from last week's events is hard to gauge, not least because we don't know what happens next. Sinn Fein's hardcore supporters have always seemed, erm, relaxed about the abundance of dark secrets harboured by the republican movement - and there's no reason to believe this will change. However, more thoughtful, newer recruits to the cause are bound to start wondering about the toll which allegations of sex abuse and sex-abuse cover-ups are taking on the party's ability to act as the laser-focused political force it purports to be.

Tanaiste Joan Burton has explicitly accused Sinn Fein of orchestrating the latest 'crisis' at Stormont as a distraction from the McGahon story. We should, of course, be wary of conspiracy theories lest we wind up sounding more Shinner than the Shinners themselves.

Nevertheless, Sinn Fein bigwigs have form when it comes to deploying weapons of mass distraction. One only has to recall the strops and stunts to which some of its Dail representatives resorted in the immediate aftermath of the Cahill controversy. Any further play-acting of this nature would be extremely damaging for Sinn Fein among floating voters in the Republic, obliterating its aura of political 'seriousness'.

Circling the wagons is an exhausting business. It requires intensive coordination, enormous patience and vast outlays of horsepower. The more often you perform the manoeuvre, the better you get at the logistics - but the more unlikely it becomes that the wagon train will ever go anywhere.

Sooner or later, even the most fanatical Sinn Fein zealot must realise that the unresolved past remains the greatest obstacle to the party's future.

GAME ON FOR LOTTO

Bankers missed a trick. "Bailout" is a blunt word, all too richly evocative of the dramatic financial transfer which occurred when taxpayers were compelled to pick up the tab for the roulette debts of a reckless elite. Were bankers more willing to admit the extent to which they operate within the gambling sector, they could have softened the blow by couching the bailout in the fun-sounding language of the lottery gaming industry.

"Game development" was a term repeatedly used last week by Dermot Griffin as he faced the Oireachtas Finance Committee. Griffin is chief executive of Premier Lotteries Ireland (PLI), the private operator which bought the lottery licence from the government for ¤405 million. Recouping this investment is a legitimate priority for the company, but its head honcho seemed determined to give little away about how the goal will be achieved.

Gambling operators are rarely gamblers themselves, but Griffin would make an excellent poker player.

Price rises are the most obvious method of increasing profits, but there are others.

The odds of winning the Lotto's top prize are currently around eight million to one. These odds could be increased, in favour of PLI, by a widening of the existing 45-number matrix. Griffin declined to answer when asked directly if there was a plan to raise prices or add more numbers.

"There are a load of game development plans," he insisted.

Remarkably, his would-be interrogators seemed content with such evasions. Lotteries are often dismissed as "a stupidity tax" or "a tax on the poor", a roundabout way of saying the poor are stupid. But, without robust scrutiny and challenge, every charge becomes a stupidity tax.

Politicians lost the right to call the shots on the National Lottery when the State sold the licence. Nevertheless, public representatives have a duty to scrutinise the manner in which the lottery is being run and they should pursue this task with unrelenting vigour.

Last week, however, they won the roll-over prize.

POSTSCRIPT

Bishop of Elphin, Kevin Doran, is a man of science, a stickler for evidence. Metaphorically speaking, he wears a lab coat and pith helmet beneath his mitre and robes.

Last week, the ecclesiastical boffin confidently declared that "the jury is out" on whether people are born gay. More data is evidently required.

Other religious leaders talk of faith, but Bishop Doran speaks only of facts. His sermons must read like research papers. Who made the world? God made the world and here is the proof. Heaven and hell? Angels and saints? Miracles and apparitions? The jury is in. The science is irrefutable. QED.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin described Bishop Doran's comments about gay people as "unfortunate".

Bishop Doran is said to have told other bishops that he is sorry for causing offence. However, it would be regrettable if any attempt was made to silence the Elphin empiricist.

By their twaddle, shall ye know them.

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